Machine Learning Predictive Analytics for Player Movement Prediction in NBA: Applications, Opportunities, and Challenges

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Recently, strategies of National Basketball Association (NBA) teams have evolved with the skillsets of players and the emergence of advanced analytics. This has led to a more free-flowing game in which traditional positions and play calls have been replaced with player archetypes and read-and-react offensives that operate off a variety of isolated actions. The introduction of position tracking technology by SportVU has aided the analysis of these patterns by offering a vast dataset of on-court behavior. There have been numerous attempts to identify and classify patterns by evaluating the outcomes of offensive and defensive strategies associated with actions within this dataset, a job currently done manually by reviewing game tape. Some of these classification attempts have used supervised techniques that begin with labeled sets of plays and feature sets to automate the detection of future cases. Increasingly, however, deep learning approaches such as convolutional neural networks have been used in conjunction with player trajectory images generated from positional data. This enables classification to occur in a bottom-up manner, potentially discerning unexpected patterns. Others have shifted focus from classification, instead using this positional data to evaluate the success of a given possession based on spatial factors such as defender proximity and player factors such as role or skillset. While play/action detection, classification and analysis have each been addressed in literature, a comprehensive approach that accounts for modern trends is still lacking. In this paper, we discuss various approaches to action detection and analysis and ultimately propose an outline for a deep learning approach of identification and analysis resulting in a queryable dataset complete with shot evaluations, thus combining multiple contributions into a serviceable tool capable of assisting and automating much of the work currently done by NBA professionals.